29. Soak your cares away in New Zealand's best hot springs
New Zealand offers countless iconic experiences you won’t find anywhere else in the world: here is No. 29 of our 101 Reasons To Stop Dreaming About New Zealand And Go.
While Rotorua is New Zealand’s best-known centre of geothermal activity, hot water can be found bubbling up to the surface throughout the country, providing both pleasure and health benefits to locals and visitors alike. It’s not just that a warm wallow relaxes muscles and soothes the mind – the many different minerals dissolved in the water are excellent for the skin and can even have a detoxifying effect. They have long been valued by Māori for these benefits, and also for the social bonding that results from communal sessions of soaking in the springs.
Lake Taupō in the centre of the North Island/Te Ika-a-Māui, was created many thousands of years ago by a massive volcanic eruption, and the geothermal activity continues today all around it, with bubbling mud pools, steaming lakes, geysers and colourful silica terraces. It’s dramatic and spectacular, but it can also be peacefully relaxing.
There is a thermal pool to suit everyone in the area, from Wairakei Terraces where you can loll in total peace in the adults-only landscaped pond, through to DeBretts Hog Springs with its hydro-slides and warm-water playground. You don’t even have to pay for the experience: walk across the Spa Thermal Park to Otumuheke Stream, use the provided changing rooms, and soak in its pools in totally natural surroundings for free. A session in the hot pools is part of everyday life at Ngāwhā Springs in Northland/Te Tai Tokerau, and has been since its discovery by Māori long ago.
Today, this little town is focused on the wellness benefits of the hot water that bubbles up here, and its newly renovated thermal pools are hugely popular. Naturally themed with wood and stone surrounds, there are 16 pools differing in temperature, colour and mineral content, each recommended for a particular restorative benefit and with its own story in Māori legend. Bathing here is also a wonderfully social experience.
The South Island/Te Waipounamu, too, is alive with thermal activity, with Hanmer Springs, north of Christchurch/Ōtautahi in Hurunui, founded for its mineral springs. Set among mountains and redwood forest, the town is focused on making the most of its many natural assets, with a wide variety of outdoor activities – but everyone makes time for the multi-million dollar Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa complex. There are 22 outdoor pools offering a variety of size and temperature, still or bubbling, peaceful or playful. Families can enjoy their separate activity area’s lazy river, water spouts, slides and aquatic playground, while those looking for something more relaxing can lie back in peace and indulge in special treatments. The complex is open year-round, and is especially appealing in winter when icy white snow surrounds the hot pools.
Down in Otago, surrounded by spectacularly beautiful scenery, Lake Tekapo is itself a stunner, with fine particles of rock flour from the surrounding glaciers turning the water a striking cloudy turquoise. One of the best places to admire its otherworldly beauty is from one of the hot pools at Tekapo Springs, located on the edge of town just above the lake. The main pools, each with a different view of the surrounding landscape, are filled with pure water from deep underground, heated to different temperatures, with two cooler family-friendly pools in the nearby Aqua Play area. The Glacial Day Spa offers a range of treatments and there are steam and sauna rooms to use. Come winter, the ice rink and snow tube add an extra element of fun.
The best-known and most popular of all New Zealand’s belching, bubbling waters is Hell’s Gate. The most active geothermal area in the country, on a self-guided or escorted walk through the lush bush of the park you’ll see steam billowing everywhere, mesmerising blobbing mud and even a hot waterfall. There’s the added interest of an insight into Māori culture, with a meal cooked traditionally in a hot pool, while the Geothermal Park and Spa is the only place in the country where you can wallow in warm, wet mud. Lying under the sky in a soothing, smooth bath of mineral-infused mud is a gift to your skin, and your spirit, that you will remember for a long time to come.